It was a full minute before I could speak. In that time, the only sound was my brother saying, “Ben, dude. What happened?”
“I f**ked up,” I said, finally, pressing the heels of my hands to my eyes.
Dad sat down, face composed. He was sitting in the chair that, not a month ago, Chloe had sat in, spread her legs, and touched herself while I tried to keep it together on the phone.
Christ, how did I let it get to this?
“Tell me what happened.” My father’s voice got very quiet: a lull between quakes.
I pulled my tie looser around my neck, suffocating under the weight on my chest.
“We’re together. Or, we were.”
“Not until San Diego,” I reassured them quickly. “Before San Diego we were just—”
“Fucking?” Henry offered helpfully, and received a sharp look from Dad.
“Yes. We were just . . .” A spike of pain gouged into my chest. Her expression when I leaned in to kiss her. Her full bottom lip caught between my teeth. Her laugh against my mouth. “And as you both know, I was a jerk. She gave back just as good, though,” I assured them. “And in San Diego, it became more. Fuck.” I reached for the letter before pulling my hand back. “She really resigned?”
My father nodded, his face completely unreadable. It was his superpower, all my life: in the moments when he felt the most, he showed the least.
“This is why we have the office fraternization policy, Ben,” he said, softening his tone with my nickname. “I thought you knew better than this.”
“I know.” I scrubbed my hands over my face and then motioned for Henry to sit down, and told them every detail of what happened with my food poisoning, the meeting with Gugliotti, and how Chloe had covered, capably. I made it clear that we had essentially just decided to be together when I ran into Ed at the hotel.
“You are such a stupid son of a bitch,” my brother offered once I’d finished, and what could I do but agree?
After a stern lecture and an assurance that there would be more discussion on all of the ways I f**ked up, Dad went to his office to call Chloe to request that she come work for him for the remainder of her internship.
His concern wasn’t just for Ryan Media, though if she chose to stay on after she finished her MBA, she could easily become one of the most important members of our strategic marketing team. It was also that she had less than three months left to find a new internship, learn the ropes, and take on a new project to present to the scholarship board. Given their influence on the business school, their feedback would determine whether Chloe would graduate with honors and receive a personal letter of recommendation from the CEO of JT Miller.
It could make or break the beginning of her career.
Henry and I sat in stony silence for the next hour; he glared at me and I stared out the window. I could almost feel how much he wanted to kick my ass. Dad came back into my office and picked up her resignation letter, folding it into neat thirds. I still hadn’t been able to look at it. She’d typed it, and for the first time since I met her, I wanted nothing more than to see her ridiculously bad penmanship instead of impersonal black-and-white Times New Roman.
“I told her that this company values her and this family loves her and we wanted her to come back.” Dad paused, his eyes turning on me. “She said that was more reason for her to do this on her own.”
Chicago turned into an alternate universe, one where Billy Sianis never cursed the Cubs, Oprah never existed, and Chloe Mills no longer worked for Ryan Media. She resigned. She walked away from one of the biggest deals in Ryan Media history. She walked away from me.
I pulled the Papadakis file from her desk; the contract was drafted by legal while we were in San Diego, and all it needed was a signature. Chloe could have spent the last two months of her master’s perfecting her slide presentation for the scholarship board. Instead, she’d be starting all over somewhere else.
How could she have handled everything I gave her before but have left over this? Was it really so important for me to treat her like a peer with a man like Gugliotti that she would sacrifice what we had between us?
With a groan, I suspected that the reason I had to ask that at all was also the reason Chloe left. I thought we could have our relationship and our careers too, but that was because I had already proven myself. She was the intern. All she ever wanted was reassurance from me that her career wouldn’t suffer from our recklessness, and I ended up being the one to ensure it did.
I had to admit, I was surprised the office wasn’t on fire with the story of what I’d done, but it seemed only Dad and Henry knew. Chloe had always kept our secret. I wondered if Sara knew everything that had happened, whether she was in touch with Chloe.
I soon had an answer. A few days after Chicago changed, Sara walked into my office without knocking. “This situation is complete bullshit.”
I looked up at her and put down the file I held in my hands, staring at her just long enough to make her fidget before I spoke. “I want to remind you that this situation is not your business.”
“As an employee of Ryan Media, and an employee of Henry’s, it isn’t.”
She gazed at me for a long beat and then nodded. “I know. I would never tell anyone, if that’s what you mean.”
“I mean that, of course. But I also mean your behavior. I won’t have you barging into my office without knocking.”